Alberich / Lussuria  ‎– Borgia

Alberich / Lussuria  Borgia LP Hospital Productions 2018

Here we have a reissue of a 2016 collaborative tape between Alberich and Lussira, which according to the liner notes was: “recorded live to tape using Korg Digital Synthesizers”.  With this release then being billed as ‘dark ambient’ it should be relatively clear that Lussuria has had a greater influence over the sound, particularly as what is offered differs substantially from the recognized driving and rhythmic industrial meets heavy/ power electronics sound of Alberich. However at the same time the sound is a fair bit more animated and digital in tone when compare the usual abstract approach and timeless quality which is characteristic of Lussuria.

Album opener Continuum features tensile but melancholic dark ambient styled atmospheres, while the following cut Antechamber amalgamates cyclic drones and washes of crumbling distortion which refract and fold in on themselves. Anti-Renaissance stands out in that pushes towards something resembling an Alberich rhythmic approach, yet here is remains muted in execution and backed with distant and cavernous squalling noise. Untenable is also noteworthy based on its incorporation of smatterings of sparse tribal-esque percussive textures within a maudlin power-drone framework. Alabaster is another offering which appears to be more strongly driven by Alberich’s influence given the programmed driving rhythm and melancholic synth elements, but they still remain understated in the overall sonic framework. For the final track Voice Of The Dagger it is an animated piece which features an excellent blend of of sub-orchestral drones, micro-tonal metallic textures and rhythmic throbbing undercurrent.

Although being billed as ‘dark ambient’, Borgia is varied in both approach and resulting atmosphere and maintains a strong sense of animated movement throughout. Although differing quite significantly from the typical approach of either project, both have a clear appreciation of the use of melancholic elements within an experimental dark ambient framework, meaning Borgia is a very enjoyable collaborative release. An edition of 500 copies (200 in purple and 300 in black vinyl) will likely serve demand, but won’t hang around long either.

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Lussuria- Standstill

Lussuria- Standstill 8xMC Hospital Productions 2017

Lussuria may not be the biggest or most well-known artist on the Hospital Production roster, but over the last decade this solo project of American Jim Mroz has issued a large array of releases which draws from a diverse sonic base, including: dark ambient, experimental industrial, muted noise, abstract techno and cinematic soundtrack styled sonic explorations. In then drawing together such a diverse sound palate, it is of interest that the end result contains a vague approximation of each chosen stylistic element, but where they are combined in such a way to sidestep the usual or expected traits of the genres being drawn from, and in the process evokes an intangible and at times mysterious aura.

To then speak of this new release, Standstill represents an exercise in stamina and endurance given that the eight cassettes feature a whopping 33 tracks (formatted as 29 tracks for the digital version), with a combined total playtime pushing almost the four-hour mark. In then choosing to issue such a monolithic release in today’s age of short attention spans, on run-time alone Standstill has to be acknowledged for its rather epic and time stretching efforts. Perhaps then of contextual interest is the fact that Jim Mroz was a contributing member who joined Dominik Fernow on Prurient’s 2017 album Rainbow Mirror – the three hour and twenty minute marathon  meaning Jim is no stranger to releases with an excessively elongated run-time.

When further considering the monumental length of Standstill it might be somewhat expected that it would be most sonically diverse. Upon listening that expectation is revealed to be true, where at times Standstill is the most purposefully musical release in Lussuria’s discography to date and consequently a fair departure from the oblique industrial and abstract techno infused experimentation of earlier works. Yet, regardless of the sheer stylistic diversity on display, the overarching mood is one of a cinematic sound-score which remains as stylistic hallmark of earlier material. Likewise while the fractured beats and rhythms of earlier works make sporadic appearances here and there, more broadly Standstill evokes a deft filmic quality and timeless atmosphere.

To talk of specifics, but without attempting the unnecessary task of describing all aspects of the release, an impression of some of the more notable moments found within the sprawling scope follow. As such the album opens with Tree of Marble, an excellent cut of hushed experimental electronica with strong underpinning tone of melancholia. Another early track Aegri Somnia channels a quite distinct archaic soviet synthesizer sound, while the combined piece Viaticum/ Spear Dance/ Companion Note features driving doom addled beats, minor keyed synth washes, and maudlin clean shimmering guitars to generate a mood driven piece of the highest order. Another combined track Acanthus Leaves/ Of Rage And Denial/ Lashes features emotive drones, radio chatter, orchestral synth washes and tribal percussion which strongly brings to mind the early 1990’s sound of Cold Meat Industry (and specifically artists such as Morthound or Deutsch Nepal), before shifting into a section of muted but driving techno-esque beats. Moving into the middle of the set list, Natura Liberari I-III – plays out as a minimalist and abstract contemporary classical piece of sparse percussion, cello piano and woodwind instrumentation, before later segments divert off into conveyor belt rhythms and looped choir like drones. Twilight Red stands out as a dark ambient track of the highest callable, where the deep sub-orchestral drones are very reminiscent of the best moments of mid era raison d’etre (and when first listening to this my mind wandered and forgot I was listening to Lussuria, where I then momentarily wondered which raison d’etre album I was listening to!). Cliff In The Red Tidal Wave shows yet more variety, by channeling a lurking, suspense styled atmospheric piece of minimalist horror stings and abstract creaking tonality, ritual chimes, and sparse clean guitar. Your Voice To Arise As Incense then completely stands out from the rest, given it is based around sampled male choral vocals (Russian? Not sure), before their tonal resonance of the vocals is harnessed and the track veers off into heady ritual drone territory. As for the final track of the entire set, De Svarta Porten strides into neo-classical and martial industrial tinged territory, but maintaining a forlorn and abstract edge through to the final moments.

With the overall massive run-time being what it is, it was simply not possible to consume this in a single sitting, rather it was approached in larger blocks of tracks over a number of listening sessions. But given the distinct individual focus of the tracks which make up Standstill, it means the material can be approached in this way without hampering its appreciation. In noting from the above description of particular standout moments, it perhaps indicates that not every moment of Standstill is of the same high level. Yet even with that said there is no poor quality or skippable content, which in of itself is an impressive feat when dealing with literally hours of music.

With its monolithic scope and creative diversity Standstill is a stellar release and the most varied and engaging material I have heard from Lussuria to date. But as this was issued in an physical edition of a mere 150 copies (already long sold out), this leaves only the digital version as the means in which to experience this. As a final comment, it is noted that Hospital Productions have previously issued similar 8xMC’s from a number of their artists. So perhaps like Alberich’s original 8xMC NATO-Uniformen from 2010 which was treated to a ‘best of selection’ reissue on 2xLP in 2014, in future Standstill may also be given the same ‘best of’ reissue treatment. We shall see.

Phurpa ‎– Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo

Phurpa Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo CD Old Europa Café 2017

Phurpa has been a rising name in the underground in recent years, which is somewhat expected given their distinct sound and approach which effectively sees this Russian group performing Bon ritual music in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Primarily based around chanted vocals of a Tibetan throat singing style, this is mixed with an array of abstracted and minimal traditional ritual instrumentation including horns, cymbals and various percussive implements. Having previously heard a couple of albums from the group, I was then surprised to discover that they now have 26 releases to their name which have been issued over the past decade. Although I have not been able to confirm it, I have an impression that the majority (if not all) of these releases are straight recordings of live performances, rather than studio albums.

On Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo the album features a single track spanning close to 80 minutes, and which displays the sonic hallmarks of being a direct recording of one of Phurpa’s live rituals. Sparse percussive sounds provide a droning introduction to the album, before the low guttural throat singing chants arrive full force at around the two-minute mark, and by this stage the catatonic pacing of the vocal driven soundscapes has been firmly set. On occasion the mood elevates to crashing crescendos of cymbals, deep drawling horns, higher pitched atonal wailing thighbone trumpets and a general subterranean percussive thrum, where structurally these instrumentation driven passages are used to bridge and interlink the sections of the cavernous throat chanted vocals.

Having heard this album, in comparison to the others I have also heard, they are noted to be broadly in the same sonic palate and style, where it raises the question of whether you need to hear more than a couple of albums to gain a decent appreciation of what the collective is about. Personally I have enjoyed the experience of becoming acquainted with Phurpha’s atypical musical style and approach, but equally I perhaps don’t anticipate myself regularly revisiting these albums either. I also suspect that there is a far greater inherent power in being able to hear and experience Phurpa’s music in a live ritual setting, where an element of its sonic impact is likely to be lost in the recorded album format. Whether or not I get the opportunity to see the group perform live remains to be seen, but albums such these album’s do at least provide an opportunity to experience the ritual works of Phurpa.

raison d’être – Alchymeia

raison d’être – Alchymeia DLP Cyclic Law 2018

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge how integral the works of Peter Andersson/ raison d’être have been to my music appreciation over the last 23 years, which ultimately means any new release from the project is welcomed beyond measure. In a discographic context a further four years have already passed since 2014’s Mise En Abyme album (reviewed here), with the new album seeing a move to Cyclic Law, which indecently is the label which has become the home for many former Cold Meat Industry projects.

Thematically speaking it is necessary to highlight this is not melancholic music for the mere sake of it, rather on Alchymeia (and to quote from the promo blurb): “….Peter Andersson scrutinizes the paths of Carl Gustav Jung’s notions of archetypes and the individuation process. Alchymeia is diving deep down to the shadows of the unconsciousness, and back to a dawn of the true Self. Confronting the shadow within is the darkest time of despair. There seems no way forward, only down. All is blackening and decomposed. Suddenly, through an enantiodromia, the ever deepening descent into the unconscious transmogrifies and becomes gradually illuminated. The melancholia is being purified. The melancholia is being purified. Alchymeia is in a sense the “raison d’être” of raison d’être, a shadowy journey through our unconscious the individuation process and archetypes”. So, certainly a strong thematic context to frame listening and appreciation of the album.

Noting that Alchymeia spans just over 70 minutes, perhaps as expected the mood and pacing of the four album compositions are slow morphing, sacral toned and religious choir/ chant framed dark ambience.  Each of the four compositions are then noted to be freeform and amorphous, effectively shifting through difference passages within their run time but also interlinking into a greater whole. However of particularly note are the various sonic elements which arc back to the sound and tone of earlier albums. Such examples of this include: the wind-chimes from Enthraled By The Wind Of Lonelienes; strongly composed/ percussive and vocal driven passages of Within The Depths Of Silence And Phormations; the floating melancholy drones and treated choirs from In Sadness, Silence And Solitude; and not to forget the atonal metallic scrapping textures from The Empty Hollow Unfolds. Yet equally, these recognisable aspects are blended with new sonic elements which include: the prominent church organ timbred drones on Albero; the slow and deep rhythmic ritual drums of Citrinitas; as well as the minimalist contemporary piano melody and deep sustained power drones of Rubedo to name a number selected elements. Noting that each of the four tracks are between seventeen to eighteen minutes each, that has allowed each to neatly fit on a side of vinyl LP, and therefore has allowed the album to be issued on double gate-fold vinyl, and which constitutes the first time that raison d’être have issued an album on this format, in addition to the usual CD and digital.  Likewise the artwork is noteworthy for being darkly stunning and visually symbolic of the musical landscapes.

Personally, there are albums within raison d’être’s discography which are untouchable classics, so it is too early to say how this new album will compare in the longer term, but before hearing this I already anticipated I would appreciate whatever was to be presented. Yet even with such a high degree of expectation, I am still surprised by how creative and vital this album sounds and feels, and particularly with it drawing together sonic threads from the last decades of the project and blending these with new avenues of experimentation. In essence Alchymeia another peerless example from an established master of cerebral, introspective and meditative dark ambience of the highest calibre. Recommended.

Mz.412 Vs Folkstorm ‎– Live Ceremony

Mz.412 Vs Folkstorm Live Ceremony CD Old Europa Café 2015

With Mz.412 having infrequently graced the stage over the years, it was way back in 2000 (18th August) when two of the three members (i.e. Henrik Nordvargr Björkk and Jouni ‘Ulvtharm’ Ollila) teamed up to perform at the Collapse festival in Rostock, Germany. Being billed as Mz.412 vs Folkstorm at the time, this goes partway to explain the harder and harsher elements of this recording which incidentally was previously issued via Pagan Dance in 2004 in a limited edition of 412 copies. This has now been reissued by Old Europa Café with new artwork and the inclusion of additional bonus tracks not included on the original version.

Having previous heard the Mz.412 live album Hekatomb (recorded at Cold Spring’s 21st Anniversary show at The Garage, London, 5 March 2011 – reviewed here), that recording illustrated a more refined presentation of their existing studio works in a live setting. However on Live Ceremony, the recording is a far rougher sonic affair which would seem to reflect an approach of only partially relying pre-recorded segments of music, in order to focus on the live generation of distortion and feedback. Without the inclusion of actual track names, the seven live tracks have been referred at as Act I through Act VII. But by way of example, Act I includes a short fragment of the classic track God of Fifty Names which cuts through live scattered noise, while an additional dialogue sample more thematically aligned with Folkstorm. Vocals are also present in the live setting, but which are heavily treated and again reflect the Folkstorm angle to the live proceedings. As with Act I, a number of recognizable snippets of studio works are used over the seven live tracks, such as on Act III when Der Kampf Geht Weiter from Nordic Battle Signs is blended with the introduction of Deklaration Of Holy War from Burning the Temple of God. But these recognisable fragments of albums function as short interludes which bridge the live sections of loose distorted noise and on occasion tribal/ ritual rhythmic movements, while he final short Act VII relies on sample of a Penderecki styled choral work to conclude the set.

As for the bonus tracks, the two Folkstorm tracks are solid examples of the spitting noise and raw militant industrial meets power electronics material that the project was producing in the early 2000’s. However perhaps of greater interest are the two-short bonus Mz.412, where there is no indication as to which era these are derived from (although Nordvargr later confirmed these are from around 2006/07).  Mors Solum Initium Est is the first of the bonus offerings and is a darkly ritualistic affair with a deeply cavernous atmosphere, rattling metallic tones and distant wailing textures, and perhaps more reminiscent of early Archon Satani than typically Mz.412 – but an excellent track all the same. Congregation of the Abyss follows to round out the album and slightly differs given its focus on intensive multi-layered garbled to guttural roaring vocals and sweeping sub-orchestral undercurrent, which overall is a replication of the sound of the Domine Rex Inferum album and another decent track.

Being a generally loose, and at time chaotic live recording, this is a worthwhile document of the live performance, but perhaps not an essential release in Mz.412’s discography. But even in saying that, the inclusion of the two bonus Mz.412 tracks gives clear incentive to track this down.

Stromstad ‎– New Devoted Human

Stromstad New Devoted Human LP Malignant Records 2017

This debut release from Stromstad is revealed to be collaborative album between the Finnish duo STROM.ec and Norwegian Kristoffer Oustad – and what a debut it is. With STROM.ec being recognized for a highly refined blend of industrial and heavy electronics and with Kristoffer Oustad inhabiting an evocative industrial smeared dark ambient sound, the creative collaboration between the two was always going to be an interesting one. Yet the creativity and flair on display completely exceeds any initial expectations.

Noting that each of the eight tracks are relatively confined (between three and six minutes each), this functions to generate a sense of urgency across the album, where its shifting and morphing elements draw from abrasive mechanical programming, controlled noise, lush sub-orchestral pads and gruff processed vocals. As an example, the fizzing/ buzzing looped static of the album opener Inherent Resurrection soon gives way to rolling tribal percussion and rough yelled vocals (clearly recognisable as those of STROM.ec), and functions very much as a statement of intent of what is explored over the balance of the album. Fever Wave Dream Function quickly following with woozy drones and off-kilter metallic clatter, shimmering synths and all underscored with a throbbing programmed element which leaps into heavily rhythmic section late in the track. The central buzzing tonality and stilted mechanical textures drives Blood Consciousness and when coupled with the gruff, slightly treated vocals is perhaps the piece most comparable to a straight STROM.ec composition.  The sub-orchestral strains of Nattsvermer constitutes the first effective respite of the album, being a semi-melodious cinematic drone-scape which reminds of mid era raison detre (and particularly so where some distant choir textures are used). In a somewhat unexpected guest contribution, Grutle Kjellson from Enslaved provides vocals on Reluctant Traveler, another track of stilted mechanical rhythms and buzzing fissures of static mixed with moody orchestral textures, while Gruttle’s vocals range from spoken, guttural chants and urgent yells (a late track guitar gives a partial nod to the current prog metal direction of Enslaved). The title track is positioned towards the album’s ends is in some ways the most straight forward with rapid fire looped beat, tempered static and vocals relegated to the middle of the mix, but in the later half it veers off into moody sub-orchestral territory, while the final album track Kosto then deviates the most, with a synth derived neo-classical piece of moody swelling strings, and with a definite modern sci-fi edge to the sound.

Not being an overly long album, all the same it delivers a heavy impact across its multiple creative arcs, and which consequently makes it feel to be a much longer album than its actual run-time. While New Devoted Human could be said to be of the genres it draws from, at the same time it steps well beyond them given its inspired use and application of such influences. Effectively the album excels by the fact of how vital the finished result sounds, and in the process generates new creative ways of approaching recognizable genre sound elements. Issued on vinyl in gate-fold sleeve, CD or digital formats, it is simply a matter of taking your pick of preferred format. But as a word of advice, do not let this album pass you by.

Arktau Eos ‎– Catacomb Resonator

Arktau Eos Catacomb Resonator CD Aural Hypnox 2017

By way of background, the Finnish duo of Arktau Eos released their first three albums via Aural Hypnox label between 2006 and 2009, while the fourth and fifth albums were then simultaneously issued on Svart Records in 2012. Now after a 5 years absence Arktau Eos have returned with new material and again issued via Aural Hypnox, and although Catacomb Resonator is billed as the new ‘album’, in reality it features only a single track of 37 minutes in length.

Although all projects on the Aural Hypnox label can be broadly slotted under the ritual/drone/dark ambient categories, in the past Arktau Eos have displayed a greater degree of musicality and instrumentation than other roster artists, which on early albums made compositions feels to be more akin ‘songs’ than sonic ‘movements’. Yet that established approach has been forgone on Catacomb Resonator, given it has opted for a sprawling drone and vocal chant oriented framework. As I understand it, this album is a predominantly a vocal based work, where this both provides the focus and source material which has been subject of additional treatment and coupled with a minimalist backing of electronics (‘archaic bells’ are also noted on the cover as a sound input, but these are not individually detectable).

The use of word ‘catacomb’ within the title perhaps gives an immediate clue to the tonal depth and sonic reverb employed, which allows low deep chants to rise from the depth to central prominence, to then cyclically fall away only to rise and build again. Those vocal elements are then counterpointed by spartan synth elements which follows the same cyclic rise/ fall pattern.  Vocally speaking the chants do not appear to be articulating specific words or lyrics, and given the applied sonic treatments they resemble a drone ambient element. Likewise given the meditative and catatonic pacing of the track, it is very much a dark and minimalist sound you have to immerse yourself in to get the most out of it.

For me personally, I already have established favorite releases from the group which includes Mirrorion, as well as the sprawling double album Ai Ma Ra.  While for me Catacomb Resonator does not surpass either of those releases, this says more of its deviating approach than any sort of lack of quality, as regardless of my personal preferences all Arktau Eos releases to date have been of excellent quality (this included). Presentation wise Catacomb Resonator has been issued on both CD with screen printed foldout 7”ep sized cover, and on LP in two colour variations for the screen printed sleeve.